Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China and is home to 14 million people. It is a 3 hour flight from Shanghai and this is where we set off to on Saturday morning. Chengdu is also known as the Country of Heaven! It has a deep history which can be traced back over 2300 years.
We arrived at lunchtime and went straight to our hotel – the Sheraton Chengdu Lido in the heart of downtown. We dumped our bags in our room and then solicited the help of the Concierge to organize a couple of things for us. Within minutes, Jack (a super helpful, very nice man) had arranged a car and driver for us; provided us with a map of the City, highlighted areas that we should visit and gave us his cell phone number in case we got into any difficulties!
We ate lunch (buffet style) in the hotel and by the time we had finished, our driver and car were waiting to whisk us away for an afternoon of site seeing. We started at the Wuhou Memorial Temple. Our driver took a photo of us outside the doors and told us where he would be waiting for us when we ready for the next stop.
This temple has some larger than life statues, mainly dating back to the 17th century but some from the 14th century. There is also the most magnificent bonsai tree garden hidden away in the middle – a lovely surprise!
What you don’t see is that there at least 8 people behind me also taking photos of our children!
After a leisurely couple of hours walking around the lovely grounds of the Wuhou Memorial Temple, we walked into Jinli Street. This is a big tourist area filled with many shops, cafes, street food vendors and souvenirs. We passed a stall with a man painting on the inside of glass bottles. The pictures were so detailed and beautifully done. Both Isabelle and Oliver came away with mini bottles with their names painted. We watched while he did it and was amazed at the skill to be able to do this!
A lovely couple of hours spent shopping and site-seeing here. We headed back to the hotel after this as James (the fantastic concierge) had managed to get us front section tickets for the Chinese Opera. As we needed to be at the Theatre for 7:30pm we decided to eat at hotel again. Another buffet for the kids, who have completely won over the staff. We, rather they, get so much attention – the Chinese want to know their names and ages. They were escorted around the food stations and assisted both of them with filling their plates! Owen and I sat back and watched!!!
We were so excited to be going to the Chinese Opera as we had heard great things about this. There were 7 different acts in the 90 minute show, with the finale being the “Face Changing” display.
First on was a dance depicting a love story where 3 heros fight against lvbu. Then the story continued with Lv Bu and Diao Chan. There was a stick puppet show, some acrobatics, a hand shadow show, Sichuan Opera song (not our favorite!) a man playing the Erhu and then the finale which was the face changing.
The face changing was the most intriguing display as you could not see how it was done at all. It is a closely guarded secret and it is not known how they do it. The performers even came into the audience – 1 was 3 feet away from us and did 3 face changes. It was impossible to see how they did it – the effect is stunning. They also threw some masks into the audience. A gentleman behind us caught one and then gave it to Isabelle, who was thrilled! Oliver, meanwhile, was fast asleep. We could not keep him awake and he fell asleep half way through the performance. It had been such a busy day!
On Sunday morning, we got up early to go to the Panda Research Base. I have written a separate post on this trip. It was amazing!
When we got back we went to the Wenshu Monastery. This buddhist monastery is one of the oldest and best preserved temples in Chengdu. Worshippers light candles and incense, constantly filling the temple with a thick, perfumed smoke.
The monastery, formerly known as Xinxiang Temple, is situated north of the central square on Renmin Zhong Lu. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, a monk named Cidu arrived, built a small hut to live in and carried out a practice of complete self-denial. Legend holds that when Cidu was cremated, a statue of Wensu (Bodhisattva Manjusri in Sanskrit) appeared in the flames and stared at the onlookers. After this people began regarding Cidu as the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Thereafter the Xinxiang Temple was rechristened as Wenshu Temple.
Cultural relics are the highlights of Wenshu Monastery. Since the Tang and Song dynasties, over 500 pieces of painting and calligraphy by celebrities have been stored here. In the Sutra-Preservation Pavilion, many famous handwriting exhibits, paintings, and artwork are restored. These precious works of art were created by renowned Chinese painters and calligraphers, including Zhang Daqian, Zheng Banqiao, and Feng Zikai. Of all the precious relics, a piece of the broken skull of Xuan Zhang, a renowned monk of the Tang Dynasty, is the rarest. Another treasure is a delicate jade Buddha statue brought from Burma to China in 1922 by Xing Lin, a Buddhist monk who walked the whole distance. In addition, the monastery houses some 300 Buddha statues of various materials including iron, bronze, stone, wood, and jade, some gloriously painted.
We saw many people praying and bringing offerings to the different Buddha’s.
Another stop on our site-seeing tour today, was to the Ancient Town. This is a walled area that has many alleys and narrow roads filled with shops, food, and souvenirs. We had just walked in when we saw this couple have wedding photos taken. Red is an extremely lucky colour in China, so brides are always married wearing a red dress!
Our Sunday night dinner was a recommendation from Jack (lovely concierge!) We walked a couple of blocks to a Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine in this area of China is spicy and Owen and I wanted to try some authentic food from here. Nobody spoke English in the restaurant, so between our iPhone apps and the pictures on the menu, we ordered several dishes to share. I made sure that we ordered plenty of Mifan (rice – one of the few words I know!!) so that Isabelle and Oliver would have something that was not spicy. As it turned out, a couple of the dishes were not too bad and they tried almost everything. It was very funny watching them with the chopsticks – they have been practicing at home, but they are difficult to use in little hands! It was a delicious meal. A table full of food, beer for Owen and I, and we had change out of £30.
Another early start on Monday morning as we were back to the Panda Research Facility to cuddle with a Panda Bear. After we had experienced this fantastic interaction, we walked around the sanctuary again. We spotted this Peacock on a roof.
After the Panda Experience, we went to another restaurant recommendation for Hot Pot – another speciality of the Sichuan region. The Pots on the table had a spicy chilli oil side and a chicken broth side. This was ideal for us as Owen and I cooked all our food in the spicy side, while Isabelle and Oliver could enjoy the same meat and vegetables without the zing! This was another delicious meal.
Finished lunch, off to the airport and home we went! A fantastic weekend with so many memories to last a lifetime. I will never forget the Panda that we cuddled with. The whole weekend was non-stop enjoyment.